Cornelson - TBT
In Bed with Sleeping Parents
by Jesseca Cornelson

They are a they, but we are a we.
I see it as a picture inside a picture inside a picture.
The bed frames the two of them
on either side of me. We are a landscape of drifting

sheets rolled about us in hills and valleys.
We are in a bedroom in a bed that lies parallel to the street.
Our bodies lie parallel to the street.
The bright morning sun angles over us from our right.

I know now that our feet, true needles, point north.
I squint and can see my own eye lashes.
My dark hair curls around a shoulder I can peek.
Some other day I will be screaming, mother

bending me backwards over the footboard
at toothbrush point, my face salt-wet with a shrieking
fear of toothpaste, a poison that will eat me.
There are so many things inside so many things.

I will find a lost shoe in a hole that opens
when the hurricane that brings my brother
takes a tree and with it my swing set.
The space where its roots were becomes a sinkhole

that could eat a dog or a bike.
We will never find the swallowed penny.
I find a collection of newspaper rubber bands
and all at once try them on like necklaces.

It takes big-handled scissors to cut
them from my swelling head.
I wash a doll in a toilet because it is doll-sized.
I see myself beside a window wishing on a star

that is just a streetlight.
There are so many things inside so many things
you can never get the proportions right.
In the chain of small, I am bigger than a doll.

I am bigger than the baby.
In third grade I will write, I weigh forty ponds.
But before the brother, I am the baby
in my parents’ bed while they sleep,

and it is the first time I have ever been alone.

PHOTOGRAPH: The author at age two (Chickasaw, Alabama, 1977).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: One of my fears about going to grad school and studying literary theory was that it would suck the life out of my poetry, that I’d become all brain and no heart. And yet studying Lacan and Winnicot and others’ descriptions of early childhood subjectification helped me remember — or reinvent — my own perceptions about my earliest memories of self, both independent and intersubjective. “In Bed with Sleeping Parents” attempts to capture the sense of isolation at the moment of realization that je est un autre.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jesseca Cornelson, an assistant professor of English at Alabama State University, is working on a collection of documentary poems based on Alabama history. Her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Footnote: A Literary Journal of History, Platte Valley Review, and Salamander. She has been an artist-in-residence at the Platte Clove Preserve.